TBI Weekly: Are spin-offs & remakes smothering scripted sparks?


On a single day earlier this month, the state of the US scripted market came into sharp relief.

The CW revealed it was developing yet another show spun off from Arrow; NBC confirmed it was piloting a reboot of Quantum Leap; and reports emerged that Disney+ had a TV series in the works based off the 2011 movie, Real Steel.

Since then, FX has greenlit a spin-off from last decade’s Justified, Netflix has unveiled its Korean version of La Casa De Papel, Fox in Turkey has snagged a Happy Valley remake; and NBCUniversal is busily attempting to sell more local versions of Law & Order. And we’re still in January.

Far from being unusual, however, such a flurry of reboots and spin-offs is increasingly becoming the norm, and not just in the cut-throat US market where competition for eyeballs has never been greater.

Around the world, viewers are being served up ever-more remakes and reboots, with those working in the scripted format industry no doubt licking their lips at the prospect of delivering oven-ready drama bibles to keep up with demand.

Law & Order: SVU

Format heavy

Scripted formats travelling globally is nothing new, of course, but it’s been easy to spot the increased movement in this area over recent months, underlined this week by US prodco Wolf Entertainment’s deal with Universal Studio Group to launch a dedicated scripted format sales unit.

It’s an unusual move, because scripted format deals are usually handled by the studio’s international distribution division, but it also says a whole lot about the potential demand from buyers as they look for proven scripts to reduce their commissioning risk.

USG’s chairman Pearlena Igbokwe has already said she expects “significant results” from the deal – no pressure, then – yet such confidence is understandable given the immense staying power of the shows that veteran producer Wolf has created, including the Chicago, FBI and decades-old Law & Order franchises.

The latter brand, which includes a multitude of spin-off series, has already found proven success after travelling to countries such as the UK and France, and with the demand for quality scripted IP on the rise, it’s not hard to see why Universal feels now is the right time to again push these formats into new territories.

A well-known drama brand that can get the local treatment is as close to a guarantee of success in today’s scripted market as you’re ever likely to get.

It isn’t just US exports going global, however, with plenty of movement coming from the other direction. French crime drama Rebecca, itself a remake of UK show Marcella, has been picked up by Disney-owned streamer Hulu in the US, while Netflix has ordered Murderville, a US-produced crime comedy based on another UK series, Murder In Successville.

Meanwhile, NBC has just ordered a drama pilot based on the Dutch series A’dam – E.V.A, while a US remake of UK series This Country is headed to Fox and Hulu in March.

The Flash

Spinning down

For those on the commissioning side, the appeal of ordering a spin-off with a built-in fanbase is also clear – particularly if the streamer is owned by the studio that owns the rights to the original show and will produce and own the spin-off. This is vertical integration at its most cost-efficient, after all. Keep it in the family.

At the forefront of the current spin-off boom is the global superhero craze, which is showing little sign of abating despite seemingly every character being leveraged to within an inch of their lives. And the legacy of former The CW hit series Arrow, which aired its final episode exactly two years ago today – on 28 January, 2020 – is still being felt.

The show, based on the DC comic book character Green Arrow, heralded a new wave of small screen superheroics in the US and spun-out into a whole universe of shows, from Batwoman to The Flash and everything in between, with characters regularly cameo-ing in each other’s series.

The latest of these Arrowverse shows in development is Justice U, which will see actor David Ramsey reprise his Arrow role as vigilante John Diggle.

With fans enticed by the prospect of catching up with characters beyond the end of their original shows, such new commissions represent a safe bet, arriving with that aforementioned in-built audience happy to digest the next slice of this expanding world. And it seems appetites have some way to go before they are truly sated.

The same goes for shows brought back to life many years beyond their original run, with NBC this month revealing it is travelling back in time to develop a reboot of sci-fi series Quantum Leap, decades after the show came to an end in 1993.

Closer to the ground, Timothy Olyphant has been tapped by FX to reprise his role as lawman Raylan Givens from the crime drama Justified. The original show finished in 2015, with Justified: City Primeval set to pick up his story several years down the line.

And the reason spin-offs are surging is simple: it works. The success of the recent Dexter revival on Showtime continues to prove that there is audience appetite for previously concluded shows, while the ability of a show title to cut through clutter is almost priceless.


Creative sparks

Part of the problem is that the streaming market in particular is increasingly dominated by a few giant players.

As these services consolidate further, as is almost certain, there seems little reason why the US-based operators will move away from spinning off existing IP and rebooting decades-old shows to cut their risk and generate easy marketing solutions.

But where does that leave independent producers and the next generation of creatives, when a reboot of a well-known drama brand is far likelier to grab viewers’ attention than a truly original story that no one has any knowledge of before they watch it?

There are of course thousands of other commissioners around the world offering outlets for new scripted ideas, yet they are facing similar battles – be it from a broadcaster or regional streamer point of view. Costs are rising and competition from global streamers is also increasing, so it’s little surprise that a Turkish reboot of Happy Valley makes absolute sense for the buyer.

Yet, couple the ongoing spin-off obsession with the rise – and obvious appeal – of scripted formats, and it is clear why there are an increasing number of industry voices mooting concern over the rush to commission pre-existing IP.

The remake and spin-off business is long established in TV and hugely talented execs have produced an array of incredible shows, from Better Call Saul and Homeland, to the US version of The Office and Ugly Betty.

In moderation, these are brilliant examples of how the content world can work but we’re now living in a binge culture. Throwing more and more dollars at safer bets – be they spin-offs or remakes – seems a surefire way to smother the next sparks of scripted creativity.

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